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Who Is Managing Your Marketing?

We recently witnessed several recent marketing fiascos that begs an answer to the age old question – who is in charge of marketing?

We recently witnessed several recent marketing fiascos that begs an answer to the age old question – who is in charge of marketing? And, even more importantly – what is marketing?

Fiat/Chrysler recently ran what has been called one of the worst advertisements ever for their new Fiat 500 featuring the singer/actress J Lo (Jennifer Lopez). Unfortunately, for Fiat the expensive advertisement was more about J Lo than the Fiat 500. It was later revealed that in another ad a stand-in for J Lo, and not J Lo herself, appeared in the ad.

Fiat’s annual forecast for the new Fiat 500 was 50,000 cars, but only a little more than 17,000 have been sold since introduction, and 500s are backing up on Fiat’s new dealers lots. The manager for the introduction of the Fiat 500 model, Laura Soave, has been terminated. She probably liked J Lo and thought it would be great to have her promoting the 500.

Obviously, the car market didn’t share her inwardly focused thoughts as the first J Lo ad for the 500 featured J Lo and her curvaceous antics more so than the curves of the car.

Who in Fiat management approved the J Lo campaign? What has J Lo got to do with cars? Was the thought that because a woman was running the campaign and the initial promotions featured another popular woman that this would prompt other women to buy the car?

Looking at the car the basic marketing question is “what’s really different about it?” It’s positioned between the Smart car and the BMW Mini, which is superior in quality, performance, and fuel efficiency. What is the value proposition?

Is it unique – No
Is it better – No
Is it cheaper – not significantly

Then – who wants it?

To add insult to anger, in a later ad J Lo had trouble unlocking the door of a Fiat 500 as it was rolled out during a live shot of the car while she was performing at the American Music Awards.

Shortly thereafter, Coca Cola, the ultimate brand leader, launched a campaign in conjunction with the World Wildlife Federation to save Polar Bears by introducing a newly designed white can signifying the habitat of the polar bear – I guess?

The concept, developed internally by Coke’s marketing department was that Coke was doing something environmentally friendly. They planned to produce over a billion of the new white cans for the promotion.

Unfortunately, no one in marketing at Coke thought to ask a consumer about it, or have a focus group give them some feedback. The result was that the new white cans containing regular Coke looked very similar to the silvery white cans familiar to consumers as containing Diet Coke. Obviously, customers were confused and some who thought they had purchased Diet Coke actually returned the opened cans to the stores where they bought them.

Shades of New Coke! The memorable campaign that resulted in an immediate consumer rebellion that forced Coke to end the campaign abruptly; quite chagrined.

Again, who in management at Coke approved this confusing can color change? And what marketing – as opposed to corporate social responsibility (CSR) – purpose was it supposed to serve?

The feeble explanation from the marketing group at Coke was that they thought (internally again) it was a good thing for the environment and Coke’s contribution to saving the Polar Bear.

When I first saw the campaign my reaction was:

  • What does a beverage company have to do with an environmental problem?
  • What variety of Coke was in the new cans, because it wasn’t clear?
  • Did anyone in marketing at Coke survey consumers before launching this new campaign recalling the New Coke fiasco still fresh in the minds of many, even though it happened years ago?

Obviously, these questions and concerns were oblivious to the Coke marketing group. After the painful and still memorable inside-out New Coke mistake – who was thinking about what for this promotion?

The immediate reaction from Coke management was to return to the red can. A recent ad emphasized the “secret formula” that has made Coke the number one brand globally.

Isn’t it time for more and more CEOs to understand that business is more about customers than products? CEOs must focus on customers and what differentiates their business from their competitors. It certainly isn’t the products, but rather understanding customers needs and selling superior solutions to their problems than their competitors.

Remember Saab? $60 million a year was spent advertising the brand resulting in a 97 percent consumer awareness level, only to have the brand ultimately fail and disappear. Why? There just wasn’t anything different about it when compared to competitive brands.

It wasn’t the cheapest, the best, or sufficiently unique in any way. Duh!

As the CEO are you marketing your superior solution to customers, or allowing others to develop advertisements for product changes and campaigns for products that only confuse customers?
And, embarrass – you!

About Robert M. Donnelly

Robert M. Donnelly
Robert M. Donnelly is CMO of Flo-Tite Valves & Controls, a U.S. based supplier of valves and components to the process control industry in North America. A coach, educator, and advisor to founders/CEOs of growing firms, he is a serial entrepreneur, having started, grown and sold several technology based businesses. Previously he held executive positions at IBM, Pfizer and Exxon.